How to Housebreak Your Puppy Using a Crate

Updated on June 4, 2017
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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

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Do you know how to housebreak your new puppy using a crate?

This article is not about locking your puppy in a crate and leaving him there while you go to work. (It is not meant to be a doggy daycare). It is also not about using the crate as a tool of punishment. (It is not meant for doggy timeouts). Furthermore, you shouldn't use the crate like some parents use the TV with their children. (It is not a doggy babysitter).

If you do not want to interact with your dog and let her spend time with you, then you should not be getting a dog.

An Easy Schedule

This article is about housetraining your puppy. Bonding with your new puppy is vital, but there is nothing more important than to start housetraining as soon as you bring your new puppy home. A lot of puppies end up losing their homes if housebreaking is not done properly, and dogs that never learn housebreaking almost never become a part of the family.

Housetraining should be easy. Puppies already have a natural instinct to go outside when it is “potty time” and, unless you have made the mistake of buying a puppy mill dog that has lost her natural tendency to keep clean, you just need to encourage her to do what is natural. A crate can help you housetrain your new puppy by allowing you to follow a schedule. Here is a schedule I would recommend you stick to:

  • Take her for a walk in the morning as soon as she is awake but wait and do not feed her until you get back. Since she will be tired after your walk she will be ready to enter her crate and take a nap.
  • Later in the morning, when she wakes up, take her out to potty in the yard. Do not make her sit in the crate whining until some arbitrary hour when you have decided to let her out. When she has done her business you can bring her back inside and let her stay in a playpen or in the room where you are sitting. You can keep an eye on her but you don´t need to worry about her at this point.
  • Take her for another brief walk before lunch. Feed her again as soon as you get back and she will be sleepy; you can put her back in her crate to take a nap. You can eat your lunch in peace.
  • When she wakes in the early afternoon you need to take her out again and let her do her business outside. After she is finished she can come back in the house and hang around you until it is time for her afternoon walk and feeding. Again, after the walk you can feed her a small meal and then let her sleep it off in the crate.
  • Your puppy will wake up in the late afternoon and let you know she needs to go outside. This is the time for the puppy´s early evening walk and her last meal of the day. She will be glad to get back inside and take a nap until later in the evening.
  • Take her out for a late evening potty break, make sure she has a long walk, and by the time you get home she will be ready to go to her crate quietly and sleep most of the night. For a new puppy I would recommend that you wake up and give her a potty break but don’t be surprised if she doesn´t do much. Her belly should be empty at this point so all she will need to do is urinate.

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Follow The Schedule

In the morning it is back to the same schedule. If you follow this method you can do away with the crate training in a few weeks. When I was house training my dog we used a cardboard box as a crate. If you want to buy an expensive crate and end up putting it up on a shelf in the garage, that is up to you.

What you should not do is spend a lot of money on a solid cherry dog crate and then use that expense as a justification to use that crate to make her life miserable.

The other reasons people keep a crate (to transport your dog safely in the car, to provide her a safe place when travelling) are fine but if you have a large piece of furniture you are not going to move it; the crate will end up being a place where you lock up the dog in your house.

Look over the schedule again and I want you to notice that the crate is only used for very short periods of time. I have heard “experts” say three hours, based on the original suggestion of the Monks of New Skete, but do you remember how long three hours seemed when you were four years old?

A little puppy can stay in his crate a lot longer than this in the middle of the night, but during the day you should play and walk with her, wait until she is tired, put her in the crate to sleep, and then take her out as soon as she wakes up. Do not leave her in there for a three hour interval just because it is recommended.

I don’t even use a crate anymore since my dog is housetrained. She has an area in the corner of the room where she can retreat to if she needs her “space” but she does not need a cage there.

A crate can be fine if your dog sees it as a pleasant place she can call her own; a crate is not okay when it is a prison.

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Some Housetraining Tips

1. Introduction to the crate should be a pleasant experience. Put a soft blanket down on the floor, provide her with a toy in case she wakes up before you know about it, and never shove her in and slam the door.

2. Make sure you give your dog lots of praise as soon as she goes potty outside.

3. Some dogs do not like standing out in the rain so make sure you have an area where she will want to go, like underneath a large shade tree.

4. If your puppy has an accident in the house, take her to her pen and go back and clean it up immediately. Use an enzymatic cleaner that will destroy the smell (Natures Miracle and others) so that your puppy will not feel the need to use that spot again.

5. Some people really appreciate having a puppy that is trained to go potty on command. This will not happen immediately. The first few times you take her out wait until she starts, give your command (for example: GO POTTY) in a happy voice, and then give her a treat and a lot of praise as she does her business. If you do this consistently she will go as soon as you use the command. Do not use the command over and over as soon as you step outside. If she hears it repeatedly when she is not even ready she will just ignore the command.

This video will provide you with an alternative, which is to give the puppy an enclosed area next to her crate so that she can urinate in the house. I do not agree with this method but some people do not want to train the puppy right in the first few days and choose this alternative. Please read the article carefully before making your choice.

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Taking on the responsibility of a new puppy is not an easy thing.

The most common complaint I have heard about proper crate training is: “I just don’t have time for this." But remember, your dog will be with you for about fifteen years, so take a few weeks to make sure that she learns things right from the start!

Questions & Answers

  • We have a new eight-week-old mini Aussie puppy. We have had the puppy for ten days, and have used the crate for night training only. We are struggling with daytime training. We are both retired, and spend a lot of time with both dogs; taking them out after meals, playtime, etc. Even after only 40 minutes from the last potty break, the puppy will still have accidents. Are we expecting too much?

    If she is holding her urine okay at night, it is just an excitement/accident problem, and you are definitely not expecting too much. You really have to step back and housetrain her using a crate during the day. If you know that she needs to go after about 40 minutes, let her loose to play for about half an hour, but then put her in her crate until the next scheduled "out." Even with a mini Aussie, this is only going to last a week or two, so it is not traumatic for the puppy.

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